Only in the last few years has the definition of codependency been expanded by some to include most of us. We sidelined it for over 35 years to the partner/spouse/parent of an addict. I was shocked in 1986, after 10 years of addiction recovery, to be identifying with Melody Beatty’s work. But, since I had more lives to control or “help”, I put that knowledge about myself to the side. Our society is so codependent that we view it as good.
Inside all of us resides a politician to a certain degree. That part of our ego who manipulates people and situations to get what they want. The politician that resides within a codependent, though, can be extraordinarily ruthless and unscrupulous. My politician is really slick and will say things that I don’t actually want to say. She says yes when I want to say no. She says no when I want to say yes. She will manipulate and bribe to get her way. She will compromise to the point where it actually hurts me. She convinces me that this is what I need to be happy. The politician is like a puppeteer who controls my actions. She does this so she can get the attention she needs, because without this attention, she means nothing. She is pointless, worthless, just garbage. It is the lack of self love and self worth that drives the politician. She seeks acknowledgement of her existence and that her existence actually means something. Any positive attention, or even minuscule acknowledgement, is a vote for her existence and worthiness. The politician confuses attention with love.
To get these “votes”, the codependent becomes a master at creating a beautiful illusion of perfection and they do this through rigid control of all situations. They will try to make themselves invaluable to others, offering help where none is needed or wanted. They will take on all the responsibilities in a relationship and create a situation where the partner becomes dependent upon them. Here we have the gratification of feeling needed to satisfy the codependent’s desperate craving for worthiness.
As Trysh Travis writes in her 2009 history of the recovery movement, The Language of the Heart, anxieties about the feminization of recovery were present within AA itself. In the 1970s and ’80s, AA’s membership grew and diversified considerably, and many more women joined the program’s ranks. They were often welcomed warmly, but into the ’90s, some AA traditionalists expressed concern that the message would be tainted by the presence of women. Travis shares the comments of concerned AA traditionalists at the time, who use “gendered metaphors: the ‘emotionalism’ and the ‘weak cup of tea;’ the ‘watered-down’ and ‘tangled-up’ meetings… [they] gestured toward, without actually naming, an amorphous feminine presence that threatened to engulf and destroy everything in its path.” The fear of corruption was also a fear of commercialization, a worry that this vulnerable space of “surrendered masculinity” would become a “narcissistic consumer lifestyle.”
Where we’re at now–
These days, the term codependency seems to be making a comeback on the wellness internet. But it’s rarely depicted as a serious problem, as a corrosive and profound “disease of relationships.” Bundled with other remedies peddled on Instagram—from tinctures, salves, and balms to astrology, tarot, and crystals—casual work on “boundaries” is just the latest in lightweight self-care for today’s empowered woman. Is it just part of a narcissistic consumer lifestyle? Maybe, but it also likely helps people.
The concept has been diluted—by its application beyond the context of alcoholism and addiction, by traditionalist fears about the impact of women’s presence in “the rooms,” and by those like Wendy Kaminer, who derisively undermined the pursuit of self-improvement and tried to make people feel ashamed of seeking recovery. It’s a stigma the word “codependency” has never quite recovered from.
From Kathy Berman–
I lived through this period of therapy becoming intertwined with AA in Winter Park, Florida. The main reason I left the rooms (which is a individual decision not meant for everyone) was because I believe the quickest and deepest route to emotional health is group therapy. The 12 step groups aren’t group therapy nor are they intended to be. In real group therapy, the members do cross talk where they share the insights they see with the other group members. Much of what I know about myself has come from a casual comment from another person. My favorite work was as a small group therapist. I taught my groups how to share insights with compassion.